By Sean Tembo – PeP President
- Our country is now at crossroads. And am not saying this rhetorically, l mean it literally. What this means is that the 2021 general elections will provide us with an opportunity to decide which direction we shall go, and whether such a direction will be progressive or retrogressive. The term ‘vote wisely’ could not be more applicable. But with such a supposedly crowded political landscape, who should the people vote for? And why?
- In order to arrive at an appropriate answer for the question above, there’s need to use a combination of merit-based assessment as well as elimination. But before we go further to look at each potential presidential candidate and what they have to offer, which of course will be quite divisive, let us first agree on some key considerations that are not in dispute. Firstly, it is not in dispute that our economy is currently on its knees, having recently defaulted on our external debt. It is also not in dispute that the levels of poverty and squalor have doubled over the past decade or so. It is also a fact that if we continue on the current trajectory, there is a very high chance that we may not have a country to talk home about because our creditors will begin to slowly grab our assets wherever they are, including our territory. Therefore, what we are facing is not just an economic crisis but an existential threat. That is how serious the issue is.
- Given the crossroads that this country is at, whoever is elected President next year will have to possess the unique economic management ability to turn this country around so as to not only resolve our current economic crisis, but also overcome our existential threat as a nation. This is not a time for average economic performers. This is a time exceptional economic performers. The best person to lead us over the next 5 years is not someone who does not yet have an economic plan and will only begin to assemble one once in State House, no! There will be no time for that. By the time such a President finishes assembling an economic turnaround plan, there might be no Zambia to talk about because our creditors would have grabbed our territory. We might at that time be citizens without land, and those who decide to live in the seized territories may end up being slaves to the new owners of our territory. I doubt that there is any Zambian who is ready and willing to be a slave to our creditors in this day and age. That is the reason why each one of us has a collective responsibility to vote wisely next year. We need to vote for a Presidential candidate that already has a documented economic turnaround plan, and not someone who will start searching for a plan once in State House. A Presidential candidate who will hit the ground running and turnaround our economic fortunes and save all of us from potentially becoming slaves to our creditors.
- We can now look at each of the potential presidential candidates that are available and their suitability for the mammoth task outlined above. Let us begin with the incumbent. His Excellency, Dr Edgar Chagwa Lungu, President of the Republic of Zambia from 25th January 2015 to date. Well, we acknowledge whatever achievements Mr Lungu has scored in the past 5 years based on his abilities. For example, the infrastructure development such as clinics, hospitals and roads in both urban and rural areas which Mr Lungu has brought about is unprecedented and cannot be compared to any other presidency in the history of this country. That is a fact that we cannot take away from Mr Lungu, and we appreciate it. However, President Lungu’s abilities begin and end with putting up infrastructure. He has no ability to ensure that whatever infrastructure that is developed is actually developed at a reasonable cost. With him, his abilities end with infrastructure development only. That is the reason why he does not see anything wrong with a tollgate such as the Micheal Chilufya Sata toll plaza between Ndola and Kitwe, costing a whooping US$5 million. That is K100 million for 8 pillars and some roofing sheets on top!!! Now, it is President Lungu’s failure to ensure that infrastructure projects are undertaken in a cost-effective manner that has landed us here with a debt default. President Lungu lacks any other competence needed to properly run a country. He lacks a basic understanding of how an economy functions. He doesn’t understand the consequences of over borrowing. He doesn’t understand the consequences of blocking farmers from exporting their maize. He doesn’t understand the consequences of undertaking infrastructure projects at three times their cost. In other words, he doesn’t understand anything else other than putting up buildings across the country. And what exacerbates his situation are two things. Firstly, his lack of appetite to get advice from anyone and secondly, his appetite to surround himself with incompetent advisors and ministers. This combination makes President Lungu a huge liability to this country. And Presidents are supposed to be an asset and not a liability to their respective countries. But President Lungu is a huge liability to Zambia and the earlier we retire him in the national interest, the better. The 2021 general elections presents all of us with an opportunity to send President Lungu into retirement. We appreciate and shall forever be grateful for the infrastructure development that he has scored, but it is now time for him to pave way for someone else who can take it up from here and score other success for this nation.
- This brings us to the next presidential candidate; Mr Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development or UPND in short. On paper, HH would have been the most suitable person to become the next President of this country, except for three prominent handicaps that he has. Number one, he is incompetent, number two he is a tribalist and number three, he has credibility issues. I know that some people might be jumping off their seats because of these brazen allegations, but please allow me to explain in detail, one allegation at a time.
- I must say that there is no shadow of doubt in my mind that if what we really need is to turnaround our economic fortunes and prevent our territory from being grabbed by our creditors, then Mr Hichilema is not the man for the job. But if the argument is that HH runs the biggest opposition political party in Zambia today and therefore he must be next in line when Mr Lungu leaves office, then it carries water. For me, l have been a very keen follower and at some point, close associate of the UPND leader, and l know for a fact that he does not have any vision for Zambia, let alone a vision necessary to take us out of this deep economic hole that President Lungu and his PF have put us in. Despite having two degrees, Mr Hichilema has a very simplistic perspective of Zambia’s economic problems. For example, time and again, he has said that his Government will provide free education to everyone from kindergarten to university!! Where he will get the money to fund such a huge expenditure, nobody knows. Time and again, he has argued on radio that he will scrap all taxes on fuel once he ascends to office. How he will bridge the resultant fiscal deficit, nobody knows. He has failed to propose any tangible alternative solutions to Zambia’s many economic problems. His solution to our current debt crisis is to go on an IMF package. But an IMF package is simply additional borrowing, albeit with more stringent conditions whereby you lose part of your sovereignty and our country’s economic policy decisions will be made by blue-eyed boys in shinny suits sitting in a boardroom in New York City. How can additional borrowing from the IMF be a solution to our current problem of over-borrowing? HH has no solutions to our economic problems and if the Zambian people made the mistake of making him Republican President, he will take this country 20 years backwards.
- And the trouble with incompetent people is that they’re very difficult to dislodge from office. He has already demonstrated his traits of dictatorship by being at the helm of his UPND party for a continuous period of 14 years without ever going to a convention to give his members an opportunity to chose an alternative leader. Those are the same traits that he will carry to State House. It is unreasonable to expect someone who does not respect their own party constitution to suddenly develop the appetite to respect the Republican Constitution. Democracy is a way of life. It is not like a jacket which you can wear in the morning when it is cold and take it off in the afternoon when it becomes hot. No. It is either you are democratic or you are not. And HH is very far from being democratic.
- On the issue of tribalism, l have no doubt that HH does not trust any other tribe other than his own. That can be clearly seen at individual level. Almost all his employees are from his tribe. When he goes to court, almost his entire army of lawyers are from his tribe. At party level, almost his entire media team is from his tribe. So if a person believes that only people from his tribe can be trusted, then how is he going to embrace the remaining tribes if he becomes Republican President? The other problem is that he strongly believes that his tribe has been unfairly treated and so, in his mind, it will be fair for him to favour his tribe if he becomes President, so as to make up for the time that he feels his tribe was marginalized. Some kind of affirmative action. Such kind of mindset will undoubtedly put this country on a downward spiral.
- Mr Hakainde Hichilema’s credibility issues are in the public domain. For example, there is no doubt in my mind that he acted improperly during the privatization process. In fact, out of frustration he has admitted it himself on some radio programs, claiming that the Government at the time was sleeping. But if the Government was sleeping, then as a patriotic Zambian, why didn’t you wake the Government up? Why did you decide to take advantage of a sleeping Government and enrich yourself?
To be continued …